On-demand transportation company Uber today said that it hasn’t and won’t investigate journalists in an effort to dig up dirt that could be used against them. That’s great I guess, except that the company’s stand against vicious, unethical, and dubious smear tactics comes just a few days after one of its top execs was heard suggesting it take part in that behavior.
Earlier today Buzzfeed reported that Uber EVP of Business Emil Michael, who came to Uber from social media analytics company Klout (ha!) and has a side gig advising the Department of Defense, made his thoughts on
investigative journalism investigating journalists known at a private dinner in New York City late last week.
The event, which was hosted by Uber consultant and former adviser to the British Prime Minister Ian Osborne, was apparently attended by the likes of actor Ed Norton and publisher Arianna Huffington, as well as a Buzzfeed editor who heard Michael suggest the company launch opposition research against its critics in the media. (Oops.)
According to Buzzfeed, Michael said Uber should spend “a million dollars” on a smear campaign that would hire opposition researchers and journalists to dig up dirt on journalists, researchers who would look into the personal lives of those critical to the company. In particular, Michael wished to target Pando founder Sarah Lacy after her publication’s repeated attacks against Uber.
On Monday Michael’s tone changed. He was apparently just really frustrated and all that stuff he said about digging up personal details about those in the media didn’t actually reflect his views on the matter. In response to the Buzzfeed piece, Michael issued the following statement:
“The remarks attributed to me at a private dinner – borne out of frustration during an informal debate over what I feel is sensationalistic media coverage of the company I am proud to work for – do not reflect my actual views and have no relation to the company’s views or approach. They were wrong no matter the circumstance and I regret them.”
And just to be safe, so that there is no confusion about it, Uber spokeswoman Nairi Hourdajian reiterated that the company hasn’t yet and doesn’t plan to look into the personal lives of people like me. Her statement:
“We have not, do not and will not investigate journalists. Those remarks have no basis in the reality of our approach.”
Anyway, the problem is not that some executive who thought he was at an “off-the-record” dinner said something so regrettably stupid.
The problem is that after Uber has tried to sabotage its opponent’s fundraising and recruiting efforts, after it hired a guy who reportedly stole confidential documents from the same competitor, after it pushed drivers who didn’t know better into subprime loans, there are seemingly no depths to which this company would not stoop in its megalomaniac efforts to win the market.
The problem is that most people don’t doubt for a second that Uber would do “oppo research” if it thought it could get ahead, and if it thought it wouldn’t get caught — if, as Michael reportedly said at the dinner, “Nobody would know it was us.”
The problem is that, even when Uber says something as seemingly straightforward as “we… will not investigate journalists,” we don’t believe them. We can’t.